Human Rights Watch

Letter to Human Rights Watch urges independence from US government

The issue of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and their close links to the US government has been highlighted by a recent letter sent to Ken Roth on behalf of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire; former UN Assistant Secretary General Hans von Sponeck; current UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Richard Falk; and over 100 scholars.

The letter focuses on HRW’s closeness to the US authorities and the “revolving door” phenomenon whereby key personnel revolve between HRW and the US government.

Undoubtedly, HRW is wedded to an interventionist agenda which minimises the importance of social and economic rights and which sees US bombing as the answer to human rights problems.

During the recent Libyan war we saw the two main human rights organisations (HRW and Amnesty) performing an important role in justifying military intervention and subsequently covering up racial atrocities – to the extent NATO felt confident in providing direct military support to the ethnic cleansing operation in Tawergha.

On Syria, the silence of the two main organisations on the clearly illegal provision of weapons, logistical and propaganda support to the sectarian insurgency has been a major factor in allowing the Syrian conflict to drag on.

Fortunately the nature of HRW’s bias is now far more well known. However, HRW makes life easy for journalists, providing quotes and copy, usually in tune with their editors and owners’ editorial line. So you will rarely hear criticism of the organisation in corporate media.

As subscribers to HRI will know, HRW’s analysis of the chemical attacks in Syria, despite being incorrect and completely unprofessional from a scientific or analytical point of view, was extremely effective as propaganda, being republished by most of the world’s media as the organisation used their credibility with the press and organisational resources to campaign for a version of events in favour of the Western-backed insurgents and for a military intervention.

It is no exaggeration to say HRW could easily have ignited a major conflict in the Middle East on the basis of lies.

Now, even though their version of events has been thoroughly debunked, they refuse to retract and corporate media has their back.

It is against this background the letter below is republished from Counterpunch. We have also embedded below a discussion of the issues in an RT interview between Abby Martin and one of the signatories, journalist and activist Keane Bhatt.

It is extremely welcome that such a highly credible coalition of human rights activists, academics and writers of high standing have recognised there is a major problem with Human Rights Watch.

It remains to be seen how (or whether) HRW responds.

If there is an inadequate response from HRW, which given its history and current leadership seems highly likely, it is essential further steps are taken by the impressive coalition represented by the signatories, in the interests of the human rights movement as a whole.


Dear Kenneth Roth,

Human Rights Watch characterizes itself as “one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights.” However, HRW’s close ties to the U.S. government call into question its independence.

For example, HRW’s Washington advocacy director, Tom Malinowski, previously served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and as a speechwriter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In 2013, he left HRW after being nominated as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights & Labor under John Kerry.

In her biography, Board of Directors’ Vice Chair Susan Manilow describes herself as “a longtime friend to Bill Clinton” who is “highly involved” in his political party, and “has hosted dozens of events” for the Democratic National Committee.

Currently, HRW Americas’ advisory committee includes Myles Frechette, a former U.S.ambassador to Colombia, and Michael Shifter, one-time Latin America director for the U.S. government-financed National Endowment for Democracy. Miguel Díaz, a Central Intelligence Agency analyst in the 1990s, sat on HRW Americas’ advisory committee from 2003-11. Now at the State Department, Díaz serves as “an interlocutor between the intelligence community and non-government experts.”

In his capacity as an HRW advocacy director, Malinowski contended in 2009 that “under limited circumstances” there was “a legitimate place” for CIA renditions — the illegal practice of kidnapping and transferring terrorism suspects around the planet. Malinowski was quoted paraphrasing the U.S. government’s argument that designing an alternative to sending suspects to “foreign dungeons to be tortured” was “going to take some time.”

HRW has not extended similar consideration to Venezuela. In a 2012 letter to President Chávez, HRW criticized the country’s candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council, alleging that Venezuela had fallen “far short of acceptable standards” and questioning its “ability to serve as a credible voice on human rights.” At no point has U.S. membership in the same council merited censure from HRW, despite Washington’s secret, global assassination program, its preservation of renditions, and its illegal detention of individuals at Guantánamo Bay.

Likewise, in February 2013, HRW correctly described as “unlawful” Syria’s use of missiles in its civil war. However, HRW remained silent on the clear violation of international law constituted by the U.S. threat of missile strikes on Syria in August.

The few examples above, limited to only recent history, might be forgiven as inconsistencies or oversights that could naturally occur in any large, busy organization. But HRW’s close relationships with the U.S. government suffuse such instances with the appearance of a conflict of interest.

We therefore encourage you to institute immediate, concrete measures to strongly assert HRW’s independence. Closing what seems to be a revolving door would be a reasonable first step: Bar those who have crafted or executed U.S. foreign policy from serving as HRW staff, advisors or board members. At a bare minimum, mandate lengthy “cooling-off” periods before and after any associate moves between HRW and that arm of the government.

Your largest donor, investor George Soros, argued in 2010 that “to be more effective, I think the organization has to be seen as more international, less an American organization.” We concur. We urge you to implement the aforementioned proposal to ensure a reputation for genuine independence.


Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate
Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize laureate
Joel Andreas, Professor of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
Antony Anghie, Professor of Law, S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah
John M. Archer, Professor of English, New York University
Asma Barlas, Professor of Politics, Director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, Ithaca College
Rosalyn Baxandall, Professor Emeritus of American Studies, State University of New York-Old Westbury
Marc Becker, Professor of Latin American History, Truman State University
Jason A. Beckett, Professor of Law, American University in Cairo
Angélica Bernal, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Keane Bhatt, activist, writer
William Blum, author, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II
Audrey Bomse, Co-chair, National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee
Patrick Bond, Professor of Development Studies, Director of the Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
Michael Brenner, Professor Emeritus of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh
Jean Bricmont, Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Louvain; author, Humanitarian Imperialism
Renate Bridenthal, Professor Emerita of History, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Fernando Buen Abad Domínguez, Ph.D., author
Paul Buhle, Professor Emeritus of American Civilization, Brown University
David Camfield, Professor of Labour Studies, University of Manitoba
Leonard L. Cavise, Professor of Law, DePaul College of Law
Robert Chernomas, Professor of Economics, University of Manitoba
Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History, Salem State University
George Ciccariello-Maher, Professor of Political Science, Drexel University
Jeff Cohen, Associate Professor of Journalism, Ithaca College
Marjorie Cohn, Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Lisa Duggan, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University
Carolyn Eisenberg, Professor of History, Hofstra University
Matthew Evangelista, Professor of History and Political Science, Cornell University
Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law, Princeton University
Sujatha Fernandes, Professor of Sociology, Queens College, CUNY Graduate Center
Mara Fridell, Professor of Sociology, University of Manitoba
Frances Geteles, Professor Emeritus, Department of Special Programs, CUNY City College
Lesley Gill, Professor of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University
Piero Gleijeses, Professor of American Foreign Policy and Latin American Studies, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
Jeff Goodwin, Professor of Sociology, New York University
Katherine Gordy, Professor of Political Science, San Francisco State University
Manu Goswami, Professor of History, New York University
Greg Grandin, Professor of History, New York University
Simon Granovsky-Larsen, Professor of Latin American Studies, Centennial College, Toronto
James N. Green, Professor of Latin American History, Brown University
A. Tom Grunfeld, Professor of History, SUNY Empire State College
Julie Guard, Professor of Labor Studies, University of Manitoba
Peter Hallward, Professor of Philosophy, Kingston University; author, Damming the Flood
John L. Hammond, Professor of Sociology, Hunter College, CUNY Graduate Center
Beth Harris, Professor of Politics, Ithaca College
Martin Hart-Landsberg, Professor Economics, Lewis and Clark College
Chris Hedges, journalist; author, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Doug Henwood, journalist; author, Wall Street
Edward Herman, Professor Emeritus of Finance, University of Pennsylvania; co-author, The Political Economy of Human Rights
Susan Heuman, Ph.D., independent scholar of history
Forrest Hylton, Lecturer in History & Literature, Harvard University
Matthew Frye Jacobson, Professor of American Studies and History, Yale University
Jennifer Jolly, Co-coordinator of Latin American Studies, Ithaca College
Rebecca E. Karl, Professor of History, New York University
J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Professor of Anthropology and American Studies, Wesleyan University
Ari Kelman, Professor of History, University of California, Davis
Arang Keshavarzian, Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University
Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Daniel Kovalik, Professor of International Human Rights, University of Pittsburgh School of Law
Rob Kroes, Professor Emeritus of American Studies, University of Amsterdam
Peter Kuznick, Professor of History, American University
Deborah T. Levenson, Professor of History, Boston College
David Ludden, Professor of History, New York University
Catherine Lutz, Professor of Anthropology and International Studies, Brown University
Arthur MacEwan, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Massachusetts-Boston
Viviana MacManus, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Chase Madar, civil rights attorney; author, The Passion of [Chelsea] Manning
Alfred W. McCoy, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Teresa Meade, Professor of History, Union College
Thomas Murphy, Professor of History and Government, University of Maryland, University College Europe
Allan Nairn, independent investigative journalist
Usha Natarajan, Professor of International Law, American University in Cairo
Diane M. Nelson, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University
Joseph Nevins, Professor of Geography, Vassar College
Mary Nolan, Professor of History, New York University
Anthony O’Brien, Professor Emeritus of English, Queens College, CUNY
Paul O’Connell, Reader in Law, School of Law, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Christian Parenti, Professor of Sustainable Development, School for International Training Graduate Institute
David Peterson, independent writer and researcher
Adrienne Pine, Professor of Anthropology, American University
Claire Potter, Professor of History, The New School
Margaret Power, Professor of History, Illinois Institute of Technology
Pablo Pozzi, Professor of History, Universidad de Buenos Aires
Gyan Prakash, Professor of History, Princeton University
Vijay Prashad, Edward Said Chair of American Studies, American University of Beirut
Peter Ranis, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, CUNY Graduate Center
Michael Ratner, human rights attorney; author, The Prosecution of Donald Rumsfeld
Sanjay Reddy, Professor of Economics, New School for Social Research
Adolph Reed, Jr., Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Nazih Richani, Director of Latin American Studies, Kean University
Moss Roberts, Professor of Chinese, New York University
Corey Robin, Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College, CUNY Graduate Center
William I. Robinson, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara
Patricia Rodriguez, Professor of Politics, Ithaca College
Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University
Elizabeth Sanders, Professor of Government, Cornell University
Dean Saranillio, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University
T.M. Scruggs, Professor Emeritus of Music, University of Iowa
Ian J. Seda-Irizarry, Professor of Political Economy, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Denise A. Segura, Professor of Sociology; Chair, Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Mark Selden, Senior Research Associate, East Asia Program, Cornell University
Falguni A. Sheth, Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory, Hampshire College
Naoko Shibusawa, Professor of History, Brown University
Dina M. Siddiqi, Professor of Anthropology, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Francisco Sierra Caballero, Director of the Center for Communication, Politics and Social Change, University of Seville
Brad Simpson, Professor of History, University of Connecticut
Nikhil Pal Singh, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History, New York University
Leslie Sklair, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, London School of Economics
Norman Solomon, author, War Made Easy
Judy Somberg, Chair, National Lawyers Guild Task Force on the Americas
Jeb Sprague, author, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti
Oliver Stone, filmmaker; co-author, The Untold History of the United States
Steve Striffler, Professor of Anthropology, Chair of Latin American Studies, University of New Orleans
Sinclair Thomson, Professor of History, New York University
Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of History and Latin American Studies, Pomona College
James S. Uleman, Professor of Psychology, New York University
Alejandro Velasco, Professor of History, New York University
Robert Vitalis, Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Hans Christof von Sponeck, former United Nations Assistant Secretary General (1998-2000)
Hilbourne Watson, Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Bucknell University
Barbara Weinstein, Professor of History, New York University
Mark Weisbrot, Ph.D., Co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research
Kirsten Weld, Professor of History, Harvard University
Gregory Wilpert, Ph.D, author, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power
John Womack, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Latin American History and Economics, Harvard University
Michael Yates, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
Kevin Young, Ph.D., Latin American History, State University of New York-Stony Brook
Marilyn B. Young, Professor of History, New York University
Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, Professor of History; Co-Director, South Asian Studies, Brown University
Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies, University of San Francisco

4 replies on “Letter to Human Rights Watch urges independence from US government”

Human Rights Watch. Who would be against groups that look out for violations of people’s rights? Good job for joining together and expressing justified righteous indignation against people who use deception and place at risk innocent human beings’ lives – the ultimate human right.

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